Picturing Thurgood Marshall: Illustrator Guest Post by Laura Freeman

I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had the opportunity to illustrate so many wonderful books about amazing, inspiring people. I love the challenge illustrating a biography for children offers and working on them, I get to learn more about great people in history along with the reader. I’m sure the picture book format draws in young readers who might not otherwise pick up a biography; I’m honored that I can, in this way, be involved in exposing kids to brave people throughout history who have stood up against injustice and people who have excelled despite tremendous barriers and overcome incredible obstacles. These stories inspire me and I hope to present them visually so that they will inspire kids too. Illustrating biographies gives me the opportunity to not only try to capture a likeness but also the spirit of the person and the time.

The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership, and Legacy by Kekla Magoon, is one of these books. As a lawyer, Thurgood Marshall used words to make big changes in our country. When I began thinking about how to interpret his story it seemed to make sense to incorporate words into the illustrations where I might normally put a pattern. On this spread where Kekla talks about young Thurgood participating in his high school debate club, I used a crossword puzzle with inspiring words that symbolize some of the ideas he stood for.

On another page that depicts his family discussing important issues around the dinner table I did the same thing, only I incorporated what their conversation was about into the table.

On a page where I could have shown a literal scene from his life, I felt it would have more impact to show all of these Jim Crow signs to overwhelm the reader as well as Thurgood as a child. I also wanted the splattered texture on the right side of the page to visually represent the negative effect those signs had on Black people.

In addition to incorporating words, I tried to illustrate “between the lines”, to hint at something that isn’t stated too obviously in the text. For a spread that talks about Thurgood’s famous case: Brown v. Board of Education, Kekla’s words told of his victory, but she also says : “This victory rocked the nation.” I chose to depict the hatred it triggered in some people along with an image of his victorious team exiting the courthouse.

It's been my dream come true to illustrate children’s books like this! Kekla did a fabulous job of telling his story and I’m honored to be involved in bringing Justice Marshall’s to life for a new generation of readers through The Highest Tribute.

About the Illustrator

Laura Freeman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree. Her work has been recognized with an NAACP Image Award, appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List, and been honored by the Society of Illustrators, the Georgia Center For The Book, and in the Annuals for Communication Arts and American Illustration. In addition to illustrating books, Laura's editorial images are frequently seen in the NY Times and other periodicals.

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About the Book

Growing up in Baltimore, Thurgood Marshall could see that things weren’t fair. The laws said that Black and white people couldn’t use the same schools, parks, or water fountains.

When Thurgood had to read the Constitution as punishment for a prank at school, his eyes were opened. It was clear to him that Jim Crow laws were wrong, and he was willing to do whatever it took to change them.

His determination to make sure all Americans were treated equally led him to law school and then the NAACP, where he argued cases like Brown v. Board of Education in front of the Supreme Court. But to become a Justice on the highest court in the land, Thurgood had to make space for himself every step of the way.